By Ellen Nimmo
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “Jesus Juke”?
I think of a gal I used to play rugby with. This gal had w h e e l s. If she got the ball and had even a little space, she’d hit the gas, run straight towards you, and at the last-minute side-step right around you so fast you didn’t have time to even pretend like you could tackle her. It was embarrassing. She didn’t mean to, but she shamed anyone that went head to head with her. After a while you just learned to live with it; even if it did make you want to crawl into a hole every time you saw her across from you with the ball.
The world of religiosity repeatedly falls into this same thing, if you ask me. Only they revel in it.
Often the religious simply can’t wait to let you know just how very religious they are. Do you feel it? Have you experienced it? Been shamed by it?
And, I’ve probably unwittingly done it to my share of people too. To my disgrace.
The term “Jesus juke” was coined by Jon Acuff. It’s meant to describe a moment where a person – or group – abruptly wheels the conversation towards a theological correction or a oh-so-holier-than-thou crack or a “teaching moment” that might not exactly fit the tenor of the preceding moment or moments. One minute you’re talking about the how excited you are for the new season of Ozark to drop and the next thing you know, your friend is saying how Jesus is the only source of joy we need.
It’s not that that their heart is for sure in the wrong place. Not necessarily. Then again, it could be. Speaking strictly of my own temptations to juke around, I feel most inclined to use this sort of juke-tactic when one of three things happens:
I want the conversation to wrap up.
I want to appear spiritually woke.
I want to feel superior to the other person in some way.
It’s an ugly thing to admit, but I reckon it’s true.
Still, I’m cautious not to skip over the fact that I don’t know what the jukes of others may signify. Their intentions might be more pure, more akin to the intentions of my rugger friend. She simply wanted to get to the goal line as quickly as possible. And look, don’t follow me too far with this rugby analogy, it’ll break down quick. Much like the conversation after a Jesus juke.
I started hearing the term Jesus juke being used not long after entering and participating in Christian circles a few years back. It’s sometimes used as a type of an inside joke by the uber-churched. That is, we’d say to anyone that asked, Jesus jukes aren’t the best way to teach, encourage, or communicate the precious truths about God’s love and provision for us in Jesus. But, for some reason, we sorta want to do it anyway. We do.
One article I read described the Jesus juke this way, “[they’re the] conversational version of the exhibitionist piety that Jesus calls out in his Sermon on the Mount, [it’s] like praying on the street corner, disfiguring your face when you’re fasting, and announcing your alms-giving with trumpets (Matthew 6:1-18).”
In that chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns anyone willing to listen: Be careful of any attempt to display your virtue(s) before others. Going so far as to say, you’ll get no reward from God for such things, no matter how religious and right-sounding it may seem. Rather, he suggests, store up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
But what does it look like to store up heavenly treasure?
You know something? I don’t’ know.
Not in precise terms. However, there’s an argument to be made what it doesn’t look like. The preceding verses in Matthew suggest it for sure not self-righteous posturing. In fact, Jesus directs the vast majority of his rebukes towards the religious elite. That’s not to say it isn’t also for more average folks, like me and you. There’s just something about the human heart that, apart from God’s merciful correction, crooks towards self. Even when masked as service to others. It’s weird. And I believe it to be true.
Now that I consider it a bit more, if I were to guess what it looks like, to store up treasure in heaven, I’d guess it looks an awful lot like the way Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. Surrounded by crowds of people, clamoring for a glimpse of Jesus, a man who had healed disease and affliction throughout the region of Galilee, a man whose fame had spread so far amongst the people that wherever he went crowds followed him with their sick and oppressed, yes this man who claimed to be God’s only Son, a man who still today is worshiped by millions of people around the globe, he, when seeing the crowds, describes the heirs of heavenly treasure this way: People who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who extend mercy, who seek peace.
The OG Jesus juke.
The pure-hearted kind.
It’s very likely not what the crowds would have expected him to teach on. Far more likely they would have expected him to highlight all their sins or shame them into better behavior. Or tell them just how far from God they truly were. And it’s not like he would have been wrong to do so. Still, Jesus took the unexpected route to reach the people.
Much later, in the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 23, Jesus may well have circled back to this approach when talking to the very religious who were carefully listening to him, their ears ready to condemn him as blasphemous and sentence him to die (as they eventually would). Running straight towards them, with holy speed, Jesus warns the Pharisees in unpolluted, loving truth.
Yes, he cautions them. He cautions us. And there’s not much juke to it. Swift, but straight-forward, Jesus calls us into loving compassion, into communities of mercy, into peace, into a purer defense of the Gospel: Lives lived in the light of his righteousness, not our own.